If you only had one way to say something, language might get boring. But we humans are a creative lot, not content to rely on a word like “everything” to communicate that concept every time. For Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, let’s enter the labyrinth of the English language and pick up a few creative ways to say “everything.”
The whole enchilada. I admit to being confused by the use of the word “enchilada” because, living in the world of Tex-Mex cuisine, I know that a burrito is much bigger. I’d vote to change this one to “the whole burrito,” but since it’s been around since maybe the 1950s, I probably won’t prevail.
A lot of people credit John Ehrlichman for popularizing this term; in a recorded conversation with Richard Nixon and others regarding Watergate, he used the phrase “the big enchilada” to refer to U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell as being a big deal. However, earlier uses can be seen in the 1950s and 1960s, with actress Betty Hutton stating, “I’ll just wear an eye veil, not the full enchilada” (Lethridge Herald, 1955) and Red Sox player Ken Harrelson saying, “We’re going for the whole enchilada—the pennant and the World Series” (Washington Post, 1969), with several newspaper references to the full or whole enchilada in between.
Why an enchilada? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it’s because you can wrap up a whole bunch of stuff into a corn tortilla.
Everything but the kitchen sink. The first appearance of this phrase that I found was from 1948 in reference to intense bombardment: “‘They chucked everything they’d got at us except, or including, the kitchen sink.” A decade later, General Trudeau said the military slowed down development “because we are such perfectionists that we want everything but the kitchen sink in a weapon.”
But after searching and searching, I can’t figure out why the kitchen sink! Why not the oven? Why not the toilet? Having seen the destruction of a tornado, I’d say that “everything but the bathtub” makes more sense. But there you go. It’s a phrase we all understand, and we get the point easily. Who’d want a kitchen sink anyway?
The Full Monty. Other than the name of a rather funny British film, the “Full Monty” means the whole lot, everything available. The most probable origin hails from the Montague Burton tailors who established a shop in Chesterfield, England in 1904. They offered a complete outfit for hire (suit, shirt, tie, shoes, socks) and called it the “Full Monty” (from Montague). It’s interesting that this phrase is often now used to connote the opposite of a full suit of clothing.
Hook, line, and sinker. I’m not a fisherman. However, I know that the hook, line, and sinker are the whole of the mechanism to catch a fish. The hook is attached to a fishing line, and a weight called a “sinker” helps the hook stay below the surface where the fish are. If a fish were to swallow the hook, line, and sinker, that would be everything he saw. This phrase often refers to someone’s gullibility; for example, “he bought that story hook, line, and sinker.” Indeed, in 1884, this phrase was used by Thurlow Weed in his Memoirs: “We are gone, hook, line and sinker.”
The whole kit-and-caboodle. The whole kit-and-caboodle was first written in 1884. The “whole kit” refers to a soldier’s necessities stored in his kit-bag (like a toolkit). “Caboodle” is a term that has passed from our common usage but was used in the 1800s. It means a group or collection, especially of people. Oddly enough, the phrase “kit and boodle” was also used at the time, with “boodle” meaning a pile of something, especially a gambler’s pile of money. The Dunkirk Observer-Journal (New York, 1988) observed that “‘The whole kit and boodle of them’ is a New England expression in common use, and the word in this sense means the whole lot.”
Why did “kit-and-caboodle” get adopted, while “kit-and-boodle” is never heard anymore? I vote for the charm of alliteration; there is something about the repeated /k/ sound that rolls off the tongue quite nicely. Either way, I’d bet (no pun intended) that some sad soldier lost everything in a card game, and “the whole kit-and-caboodle” was born.
Lock, stock, and barrel. The lock, stock, and barrel are the three main parts of a musket, a firearm in use since the 15th century. However, the use of “lock, stock, and barrel” as meaning the whole thing presents from the 19th century; this is when standardization made muskets into those three parts for quick manufacture, assembly, and replacement of a damaged part. Thus, a soldier would need all three parts to have everything for the musket.
The clearest reference to this phrase used figuratively comes from Rudyard Kipling’s Light That Failed in 1891: “The whole thing, lock, stock, and barrel, isn’t worth one big yellow sea-poppy.” In case you’re wondering, the lock is the firing mechanism, the stock is the butt-end of the gun, and the barrel is the cylinder through which the bullet is fired.
The whole nine yards. The earliest confirmed appearance of this phrase in print is from 1962, in a short story by Robert E. Wegner (Man on the Thresh-Hold). Various theories abound for where this phrase came from, and it’s one of those that ends in “we don’t know.” (Don’t you love those?) Here are some of the suggestions:
- A whole suit required nine yards of cloth to make.
- The belt that held bullets for machine guns in World War II was nine yards, so a gunner using “the whole nine yards” was the whole thing.
- Nine yards refers to football, where getting only one yard in a down means you still have pretty much everything, or the whole nine yards, to go.
- The capacity of a ready-mix concrete truck is nine yards.
- A three-masted ship had nine yards of cloth, three yards on each mast.
- Nine means everything in numerology, like “dressed to the nines.”
Just note that for every suggestion here, someone raises a good objection for why that one isn’t the correct origin. I recommend you simply claim your favorite and make a good case for why you’re right. Give your argument the whole nine yards!
The whole shebang. This phrase made its appearance in America in the 1920s. What is a shebang? Well, that’s up for some debate. Many believe that its first meaning was a crude shack or shelter. Although its origins are unclear, “shebang” began appearing in print around the 1860s and simply denoted “thing.” Given that “shebang” is a really fun word to say (try saying it three times fast!), it seems that people used it as a colorful way to express everything by saying “the whole shebang!”
The whole ball of wax. No idea. The earliest reference is from the Atlanta Constitution in 1882: “We notice that John Sherman & Co. have opened a real estate office in Washington. Believing in his heart of hearts that he owns this country, we will be greatly surprised if Mr. Sherman does not attempt to sell out the whole ball of wax under the hammer.”
The only specific suggestion I have seen comes from a 17th century practice of doling out the estate by writing down gifts onto pieces of paper, rolling them in wax, dropping them into a hat, and having the beneficiaries draw their ball of wax out. Yeah, I’m not buying it. That’s 200+ years of no one using the phrase, and then suddenly it shows up? I’ll present my own theory that some poor schmuck cleaned out their grandfather’s ears and found seemingly everything in there; thus, the “whole ball of wax.” What d’ya think?
I’ll let Porky Pig to have the final say for “everything”:
What other phrases have you heard or used that mean “everything”? Which of the above phrases do you like?
Sources: The Phrase Finder; Red Herrings & White Elephants by Albert Jack; Time Magazine; Big Apple Corner (site of an OED contributor); Word Wizard; Thesaurus.com; The Word Detective; World Wide Words